Actor Paul Newman's contribution to motorsports was remembered in a ceremony before the Indy 300 on Sunday, but the team he co-owned for more than 25 years couldn't get its hoped-for win to further honor him.
Newman, who died Sept. 26 after a lengthy fight against cancer, helped found the Newman/Haas/Lanigan team in 1982. On Sunday, there was a minute of silence and a video tribute featuring a montage of shots during his career was shown on large screens around the track.
But the two team drivers had their share of problems. Graham Rahal was blocked by a few accidents and traffic and finished ninth after starting 13th. Justin Wilson of England, second here last year, finished 12th after having gear problems on the pace lap.
"I had hoped we could have had a better result but the car was pretty good," said Rahal. "We passed a heck of a lot more cars than I thought."
Wilson, who qualified ninth, said it was a disappointing day.
"If I wasn't laughing I'd be crying," Wilson said. "About halfway around the first warmup lap the car stopped shifting. It meant we started last."
He moved back up from 24th to 12th after nine laps before yet more problems.
"On our first pit stop we had trouble flowing fuel, so that meant I was again last and had to work my way back up," he said. "It was a long day."
In 18 years at Surfers Paradise, members of Newman's team have six wins, seven poles and 10 podium finishes, but the Hollywood star never made it to Australia for a race.
TICK TOCK: Indy 300 organizers and Indy Racing League officials held talks this week on the future of the Australian race, which is not on the IRL's 2009 schedule but could still be added.
It has been held since 1991 on the former CART or Champ Car series.
A decision is expected within two weeks. The IRL wants the race moved up; local organizers and backers would like the date kept the same because they are locked into other races on the three-day program.
British driver Dan Wheldon, who finished 11th Sunday in the race won by Australian Ryan Briscoe, says the clock is ticking.
"It needs to be added to the schedule very soon because it does make it difficult for the teams," Weldon said. "A lot of the teams have to go to the sponsors and say there's going to be 18 races.
"If all of a sudden you start adding races, it's very difficult to go back to the sponsors and say, 'Hey, there's a new race, can we have some more money?'"
He backed the Australian race, saying it was the biggest on the IRL calendar behind the Indianapolis 500.
"It's always a packed race, I think that's very impressive, it doesn't matter what year, this race has always had passionate fans and a lot of them," Wheldon said.
"And being in Australia certainly adds some international cred to the series and another dimension."
Organizers said 94,465 attended the race Sunday, about 8,000 down on last year. Overall, 297,288 attended the four days of the Indy race meet, about 17,000 down on 2007.
TAGLIANI IN FORM: Canadian Alex Tagliani made his second start for Conquest Racing and finished fourth in the Indy 300 on Sunday, giving the team its best finish in the IRL since Laurent Redon finished third at California in March 2002.
Tagliani is hoping for a ride in 2009 with Conquest, and the strong finish Sunday is sure to help his chances.
"I'm pretty sure that the winter will be much sweeter with this good result," said Tagliani, who led for one lap after starting seventh. "The last pit stop is what cost us the podium. We had a problem with the fuel going into the car."
Tagliani has two podiums here in nine appearances, both third-place finishes.